A new study led by reproductive health researchers at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) showed that despite anti-abortion laws that complicate women’s access to reproductive health care, a majority of women seeking abortion still ultimately complete the procedure—and that others only fail to do so because of the obstacles in place.
State laws in Utah put two major obstacles in the way of women seeking abortions. Doctors are mandated to conduct an in-person counseling session—based on information that is not required to be medically accurate—prior to the procedure, which means patients must visit a clinic at least twice. Additionally, a mandated 72-hour waiting period is in place for all abortion procedures that does not start until completion of the counseling session.
For the UCSF study, 500 women seeking an abortion at four of Utah’s nine abortion-providing clinics were surveyed both on their first visit and three weeks later. 86 percent ultimately completed the procedure. Three percent learned they had not been pregnant or had miscarried and two percent were still planning to have the abortion but had yet to complete the procedure by the end of the survey period.
Only eight percent of the respondents had decided against getting an abortion in the three-week period, and many did so because of the complications presented by the state’s anti-abortion policies. One woman was unable to obtain an abortion because the mandatory waiting period delayed the process past the provider’s gestation period limit. The second most common reason other respondents didn’t complete the procedure was the financial burden, which is worsened by both laws. The mandatory counseling session is not free, and the expense averaged to $44. As of 2011, 62 percent of women lived in counties without abortion-providing clinics; due to the 72-hour waiting period, women who lived in these counties either required two round-trip commutes or a hotel stay and time off work to obtain an abortion.
Since Utah passed the 72-hour abortion waiting period, four other states have followed suit. Under the guise of protecting women, these restrictions undermine a woman’s ability to make decisions for herself, as well as erase her reproductive autonomy. The study makes clear that instead of deterring women from abortion, such laws only increase their burden in doing so—and, in some cases, prevent women from accessing the full range of reproductive health care legally available to them.